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No matter which group you fall into, we could all benefit from understanding more about the journey widowers take through loss, grief, and the effort to establish a new life. And Kathy said, “The little boy behind me is kicking the back of my airline seat.” Well, my brother did what every man would do. Herb Knoll: Well, depending on what research you look at, there’s approximately 2.7 million widowers in America. They’ll pause and then they’ll say, oh wait a minute, I do know one. Brett Mc Kay: Let’s talk about that grieving process. The third man actually said to me, “It’s not manly to have these discussions with you.” And therein, lies the problem. But let’s talk to the people who may be friends and family of a widower, what can they do to help and support? What can friends and family members of widowers do to help and support these guys? It was my first day to work, 10 days after my wife’s death.
Here today to walk us through this process is Herb Knoll who lost his wife himself and has dedicated his life to helping his fellow widowers. And she lasted actually quite a bit longer than the average pancreatic cancer patient does but it caused me to take a journey that I never wanted to take. And following all of that, I went looking for help one day. I was in the banking field and I had an employee walk into my office four months after my wife died and she looked at me and she said, “The entire floor misses your laughter.” And then, I realized that I probably needed some help. He leaned over the top of the seat and told the young man behind him to knock it off. And it’s a little bit risky because men are vulnerable when they become widowers because of that very behavior. There are 420,000 new widowers in America alone each year. And he lives down the street or he’s in the next apartment at work. And they don’t even talk about it when they get home. Sometimes they overdo it and they line us up on their calendars for things that we don’t even want to go to. As you talked to the men in this book and also the experts, did you discover that men grieve differently than women do or do widowers grieve differently than widows do? and in full disclosure, I’m not a licensed anything. But the professionals will tell you that grief is grief. A two act, 15 scene play, that actually I was very pleased to see win Best New Play of the Year in Update New York last year. That men don’t feel like they have permission to grieve. I’m certainly available to anybody and I’m happy to be of service. And a lot of times, even with just death in general, when someone dies, people are just really reluctant to reach out because it’s death. And as she’s getting ready to leave me, she says, “I want to introduce you to my aunt.” Well, my wife’s memorial service hadn’t even taken place yet. Let’s hope that the medical doctor refers you to a mental health professional just to be sure. When my wife was sick, we were living in Nashville, Tennessee.
Herb is the founder of the Widowers Support Network which provides free advice and resources to men who have lost their spouses and the author of the book, The Widower’s Journey. It included 39 months of surgery, chemo, radiation, trips to places like MD Anderson in Houston and Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. I was going in at in the morning and going home and at night, and that was pretty much my life. I went to the Veteran’s Administration because I’m a disabled vet. And I asked the gentleman at Barnes & Noble, what do you have for a widower? You talk about in the book that yeah, you went to Barnes & Noble looking for books and there really wasn’t anything out there for widowers. Are there books out there, a lot more books out there, for widows than there are for widowers? In fact, I spent the next nine years researching my book and had an agent out of New York and all that. They were candid enough and honest enough to say, “We don’t think men buy books so we’re not going to do a book about widowers. Well, Kathy leaned over to my brother again and said, “What did you do that for? So when I wrote my book, I didn’t attack it as my story, my journey, or that or any one person. And I had 40 men from across the country who were brave enough to share their stories with me and share their innermost secrets and their tears and their grief and their best practices, and we dissected the issues of the day that widowers face. But they don’t come top of mind because widowers live in the shadows. They’re more reserved because basically they’re told that boys don’t cry since the time that they were able to crawl and walk. Because men don’t think that anybody cares and that it’s not manly to reveal those kind of feelings. But the difference is that ladies are more social and that men have egos and they get in the way. And the most impressive scene in the play is a man sitting in his recliner looking at his TV, changing the station with a TV dinner laying on his belly and he falls asleep that way. In one of my speaking engagements in Connecticut, one of the men in the room was a former captain of a nuclear powered submarine. But they can go to places like Grief Share which is a well known program that’s all over the country. The men will find that for every man that attends, there will be four or five women that attend, so they’ll be outnumbered. So I said, “Well, that’s not going to happen.” And I walked away. I went to Vanderbilt Medical Center and I had an examination with a psychiatrist. There’s a reason why the medical community has this help available. The older men are either frightened that they’re going to live alone.
Today on the show, we discuss Herb’s own experience of becoming a widower, how and why he found that there were few resources available specifically focused on helping men deal with the loss of their wives, and how that catalyzed him to creating such resources himself. He typed widower into his search engine and looked up at me and said, “Mister, I don’t have a damn thing for you.” Well, following all that, I decided somebody better write a book for men. There were some books out there but there was nothing that satisfied my thirst. So I, within a few months, decided to leave my 38 year career and rededicate my life to serving widowers and those who love them. And we paraded a manuscript around to over 30 different publishers. We are going to do another book this year for widows, however.” So they think that the widow market is much stronger. A lot of it’s written by academics from some university perspective, some think tank somewhere. ” He said, “You said he was kicking your seat.” And she said, “Well yes. I just wanted you to know about it.” Well, men aren’t like that. And then, we elaborated by sharing how that one problem whether it be financial or religion or health or relationships or their career or whatever the issue is, how it impacted a few men. It’s a very strategic book that men can pick up, grab an idea, and put it back down and pick it up again in a month from now when they have another problem. So some of the other facts are that the suicide rate among widowers is three or four times greater than that of married men. It’s the wives that make sure we eat right, that we get exercise, that we get our PSAs checked once in a while. And if the man happens to be a caregiver of a terminally ill wife, then he’s even less likely to get medical attention if he feels an ache or pain. And yet, when he lost his wife, he needed to talk to somebody. The challenge is will the men open up in front of women? They go and they sit there and they let the women do all the talking. And sometimes men are slow to take instruction from a lady, even though it may be good instruction. In retrospect, I know she was well-intentioned and she didn’t know what to say, because for some reason, in our society, we don’t talk about death. And in fact, one man in the book, again, John Vandahar, John said to me one time … Now everything was fine at that point except my wife’s diagnosis. And it helped me get through a very difficult period. The older generation aren’t as versatile in their skills and being able to care for themselves, cook for themselves, do the laundry, all the domestic chores. Some of them don’t even know how to pay the paperboy.
We then get into the different issues widowers face including loneliness, isolation, depression, a decline in their own physical health, poor decision making, and how and why these issues can manifest themselves differently in men than in women. Brett Mc Kay: So you published a book, The Widower’s Journey. And it’s been an interesting journey and a rewarding journey ever since. My response to them was men certainly can’t buy what’s not on the shelf. And there’s lots of reasons why you want to do that instead of having a publisher anyways. And then, on top of all that, we brought in a team of experts who made even further analysis of what that issue was all about and how men can go after it. Brett Mc Kay: Let’s talk about the need for a book like this or a resource like this for widowers because you start off the book talking about some of the unique problems that widowers face. They have an increased rate of diabetes, hypertension, and heart attacks. And then finally, when the aches or pain get more severe, it may be too late. So, men abuse themselves on their health and that’s a big risk for men. Brett Mc Kay: And also, going on that statistic of depression and suicide, a big factor in that is widowers become very lonely because the wives are often the social linchpin. He could run a submarine, an attack submarine, but when he lost his bride, he needed help. And that’s what I do all day long is I help men, actually, beyond North America now. Brett Mc Kay: I mean, are there support groups out there just for widowers? But there’s just the sense that she doesn’t understand. I asked him, “What’s the best thing that happened to you when you were grieving? One love does not take anything away from the previous love. If people don’t believe that that’s possible, look at all the people that remarry after a divorce. But I wanted to be sure that I was properly anchored as I cared for her. But four months after she passed and I went and saw VA, there I saw a counselor and the counselor was extremely helpful to me. But so many men hold themselves up because of their ego and what they think others expect of them. There’s a man in Rochester, New York, whose wife died at the age of 28. There’s a man in Los Angeles who came home and found his wife dead of a heart attack. Does he get a check or credit card or do we go online? Some men are afraid of, perhaps, getting seriously sick themselves and having somebody to take care of them. And frequently, that ends badly, either in divorce or a breakup of some type.